Whole Lotto love 

Musical one-night stand takes on Zeppelin

Traditionally, townsfolk mark the approach of spring with the appearance of a groundhog or perhaps the blooming of the first crocuses. But for a wide swath of the Missoula arts scene, the impending Missoula Rock Lotto represents a musical springtime. The annual event randomly assigns musicians to a group and gives them a few weeks to write songs and learn covers, and it's become much more than the sum of its parts. The past three years of Rock Lotto have been an opportunity to emerge from winter and party down.

According to Missoula Rock Lotto's founder, combating late-winter doldrums was the whole idea in the first place.

"Touring bands don't come in the winter and everyone gets all sad in the wintertime and depressed," says Jason McMackin, former Indy calendar editor, current bass player in Total Combined Weight and sole member of the Missoula Rock Lotto Committee. "Everyone just gives up on doing anything but getting drunk. Everyone is out of money. And I'm not sure, I had never heard of a rock lottery before, but it popped in my head."

Cities including Brooklyn, Seattle and Minneapolis all host variations of rock lotteries, though no one in Missoula knew quite what to expect before that first Rock Lotto held in early 2013 at the VFW. Something was clearly special, though, when people showed up wearing spray-painted T-shirts in homage of bands they'd never heard before and never would again after that night, like Traumaboner. McMackin figured maybe 70 would people to show up, but instead the VFW was packed to a capacity that likely pushed the limit of the fire code. One band opted to wear union suits, sing in British accents and throw free CDs into the crowd. Vomit Cop sang a song about baby beluga whales that remained stuck in some concertgoers' heads for days.

Rock Lotto II: The Quickening moved to the more spacious Palace Lounge, and highlights included the Tupac Shakers covering the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" theme. KECI weatherman Mark Heyka himself showed up and bought shots for the band Mark Heyka Overdrive.

By the third year, word was out that Lotto was not something to be missed. More than 350 people packed the Palace for the "Women in Rock"-themed event, and highlights included Tricia Opstad belting out a note-for-note version of Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl" and the band Love Puddle playing, by crowd demand, three encores of 4 Non Blondes' "What's Up."

click to enlarge Buttress and her Doodes performed at last year’s Rock Lotto. - PHOTO COURTESY OF GREG RAGAN
  • photo courtesy of Greg Ragan
  • Buttress and her Doodes performed at last year’s Rock Lotto.

Every Lotto has been for a cause, too. Last year's proceeds raised more than $4,000 for ZACC's Girls Rock Camp. This year's beneficiary is MusiCare Montana, a nonprofit that brings musicians into assisted living facilities to entertain residents.

Rock Lotto's fundraising itself is a notable feat. McMackin says the trick is to make a show into a special event, pro-wrestling style.

"Make it seem like this is the only thing going right now and it isn't gonna last," McMackin says. That means creating gimmicks to lure people who might not come out otherwise, like this year's rule of making bands do Led Zeppelin covers. The theme was a difficult choice for the Rock Lotto Committee.

"Yeah, I fuckin' hate Led Zeppelin," McMackin says. "Specifically, I hate Robert Plant and Jimmy Page."

But McMackin's concept for the fourth Rock Lotto aligned with Zeppelin.

"The fourth album is when bands figure their shit out, especially when you listen to classic rock. Bowie: Hunky Dory. The Who: Tommy," McMackin says, ticking off a list. "Toto: IV. Rush's 2112. There's a lot of fourth albums that really stand out as this is when these people got famous. Led Zeppelin IV has the word "four" in it—and people aren't going to do Toto."

It remains to be seen what kind of surprises and memorable events will emerge from the 10 bands slated to play Rock Lotto IV, but McMackin is already planning a theme for the fifth—and final—edition in 2017 (unless someone else wants to take the project on). It might seem like an abrupt end to Rock Lotto, but that's been the spirit of the event all along. It's a one-night-only special event.

Missoula Rock Lotto IV: Zoso takes place at the Palace Lounge Sat., Feb. 27, at 8 PM. 18-plus. $8-$10 suggested donation. Advance tickets available at Savoy.

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